Sometimes the best indication that a system is working smoothly is a lack of conversation about it. To Deb Messinger, controller at Vita Plus, the relative hush since the livestock feed manufacturer implemented expense management software from Certify three years ago signifies that the sales teams is happy with the product.
"Our power users are very good about, the minute anything is not working the way they think it should, they let you know," she said. "So, in this case, no news is good news."
Finding a system that was easy for users to understand was a primary consideration when Messinger and the chief financial officer (CFO) at the Madison, Wis.-based company started looking for new expense management software in 2009. After evaluating two other products, Certify became the clear front-runner because of its competitive price and how well the system's capabilities aligned with the organization's requirements, Messinger said.
Although Messinger mentioned a couple of small areas where the system could be improved, she commended its ease of use and the responsiveness of the vendor's management team. Her experience had been quite different with Concur, the company's previous expense management software provider.
Vendor attentiveness helps smooth snags
According to a survey conducted by Certify, 50% of small and medium-sized businesses rely on manual spreadsheets for their travel and expense (T&E) processes, and 25% use a cloud-based system. Vita Plus has belonged to the latter category since 2004, when it moved away from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and adopted Concur expense management software. Although using Concur dramatically reduced the time spent processing expense reports, Vita Plus was forced to switch after an upgrade left the company behind, Messinger said.
"Concur worked well, except they decided they were interested in customers that had many more employees than what we had, and they enhanced their software [to] way more than what we needed," Messinger said. "It was mainly for if you were flying all the time and staying in hotels, [but] that didn't fit our culture and where our major expenses were." Vita Plus' sales representatives typically drive to farms to make calls, so the majority of their expenses are mileage and meal reimbursements, she explained.
After Certify was implemented in 2010, Vita Plus held a group training session at a sales meeting, and users caught on quickly. "There was hardly any training at all -- it was like 'Not a problem, I can do this,'" Messinger said. The greatest challenge in adoption was nailing down the process to attach receipts, which she said a handful of users initially had problems with.
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A reporting gap was the only other snag that Messinger cited in the company's early days using the new expense management software. She explained that Vita Plus' mileage program is unique because reimbursement varies by state. Because of this, "there was no reporting in Certify that covered our needs," she said. Certify, however, built a custom report in a day after Vita Plus' CFO called the vendor's CEO. This attentiveness was another reason her organization chose Certify, she added.
"If there was ever a support issue [with Concur], you could open a case, but there was no one-to-one contact with anybody," Messinger said. "What was really important to us was when we chatted with the people at Certify, they had no problem giving us the CEO's phone number and saying, 'If there's something that you guys want, call.'"
Today, Messinger can name only a couple of sticking points. "The only thing that is a little cumbersome is when you want to print just one individual expense report, it doesn't come out in a very user-friendly format," she said. "But it's not that it's not workable, because it is." She also said that Vita Plus currently manually enters information into the company's bank software from the expense management system to process an ACH payment, instead of automating the process through a Certify third-party provider, because the organization doesn't require the transactional-level detail that would be produced.
Mobile capabilities gaining importance in T&E software
In End-to-End Visibility into T&E Expense Management: Mobile Comes to the Table, a recent report by Aberdeen Group, author Louis Berard, senior analyst for global supply management, presented hard numbers to illustrate just how cost-effective expense management software can be. According to Berard, companies that use end-to-end T&E software to automate the process from start to finish have an average processing cost of $11.28 per expense report, compared to $18.03 at organizations without such a system in place. After some quick math, it becomes clear that the difference can be significant.
"If, for example, a midmarket company processes approximately 1,000 expense reports per month, using an end-to-end solution will … result in an approximate yearly savings of $86,160," Berard wrote. "In addition, an end-to-end solution will allow for greater visibility and automation."
Users of end-to-end systems also are more apt to take advantage of mobile applications for T&E, Berard noted, which he said will gain in importance in coming years. "Invest in mobile apps that will enhance your suite of products. … The projected growth toward apps and mobile devices will double and triple for 2013," he wrote.
Many of Vita Plus' sales reps use Certify's mobile app, mainly for capturing receipts, Messinger said. "Our IT staff automatically installs the app on any product they get -- computers, iPhones, iPads -- so they are fully capable of doing expense reports on their iPad if that's what works best for them," she said. "It gives them the option to do whatever's most convenient."
Looking back on her company's time with Certify, Messinger had a few pieces of advice for companies considering adopting expense management software. "Take the time in advance to get everything set up correctly, and make sure you're well-trained on it to make sure you're prepared to answer questions," she said. "Other than that, just do your research and find out what meets your needs the best."
This was first published in May 2013